Guild Theater

33 W. 50th Street,
New York, NY 10020

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Benjamin
Benjamin on December 17, 2004 at 10:50 am

Re: The Guild

I think the most noticeable thing about the Guild (at least for me as a kid) was its turnstyle entrance — which was very unusual for a movie theater. Now that I think about it, it seems this system was common for the newsreel theaters. I guess it’s adequate for their needs and is less expensive than a ticket taker. But I think once they switch from newsreels, the Guild still continued with the turnstyle entrance.

Although I realize that this is probably a very minor, minor consideration, I think the turnstyle — which in my mind was associated with “low class” facilities and entertainments — might have been a subtle turn off to prospective movie patrons. Kind of like, “What kind of theater and movie experience will this be — they don’t even have a ticket taker?! If I want to see this movie, I think I’ll go see it in a "real” movie theater.“ Again, I don’t think this was a major problem, but I wonder if it had a slightly subtle negative effect nevertheless.

I always wondered what the inside of this theater with the unusual entrance was like, and if memory serves I was surprised by how “normal” it was when I finally saw a movie there. In the late 1960s, I saw the Beatles “Yellow Submarine” there. I think it had already been playing all over the place for a while, and this was the last place that was contining to show it.

If I recall correctly, while not an unpleasant experience, it was something less that the “full” movie theater experience — even for a small movie theater. For instance, the small movie theaters on the Eastside have/had coffee bars, etc. — I think the Beekman even had one where you could see the movie through a window. So in some ways, I guess, it was a lesser movie experience.

Re: the underground entrance to Radio City Music Hall

As a curious kid, I always wanted to use this entrance, and if memory serves I believe I got the chance in the late 1970s when I used to escort tour groups to the Music Hall. I think we were assigned to that entrance a few times.

In it’s earlier days (1950s, 1960s, early 1970s), I have a vague recollection of seeing “knowing” patrons of the Music Hall use it as a quick and easy exit to the subway after the show, especially when it was raining. But this is just a vague recollection and maybe it’s a false “memory.”

Re: the stairways around the underground entrance to the Music Hall

Someone asked where did they lead to? It depends on which stairways are being talking about.

Unfortunately that whole area has been rebuilt — desecrated (sp?), in my opinion — and there used to be additional stairways (and additional hallways) to the ones that are there now. (For instance the grandest passageway and stairway, the one directly on axis with the subway, was replaced by income producing retail space.)

But I don’t think any of the stairways in the area lead directly to the Museum that was mentioned in a previous post. (My earliest recollections of the underground concourse, however, are mostly from the mid-1960s. And since the Museum is before my time, this is only a guess on my part.)

My recollection is that most of the stairways around that area were intended as additional passageways up to the main lobby. There was also a very small stairway opposite to the Music Hall entrance that was a stairway to, I think, a mechanical area. It was too small to appear to be a public passageway of some sort. And above that mechanical area would have been a large, movie set-like pharmacy with lunch counters, I believe. Even if this pharmacy had been the location of the Museum, it’s hard to imagine the small stairway that I think people are referring to as being a public passageway to it.

One of the great things about stairways from those times — something that architects seem to have forgotten — is that they often were designed to be an interesting “experience” in one way or another. Some of them, including I think some of the ones we are talking about, had “windows” into storefronts etc. And the larger ones, designed as main entrances for large crowds, were worthy of the Queen Mary or a Fred Astaire / Ginger Rogers movie.

One problem, however, is that they were built for a different “safer” age. So some of the smaller ones, even perhaps those with windows into shops, had I believe “blind” spots that might have made them somewhat dangerous in this day and age.

And the larger ones took up “too much” valuable space and were thus made into rentable, income producing areas.

chconnol
chconnol on December 13, 2004 at 10:35 am

I went by the old Guild this afternoon. The Build a Bear workshop store is temporary until their 5th Avenue store is completed (imagine what that place will be like…the epitome of chain store insanity).

The doors directly under The Guild’s old marquee are the theater’s doors complete with the turnstile and box office. You can’t make out much of the theater from the Build a Bear store. The upstairs area is closed off.

Sad…

DonRosen
DonRosen on December 13, 2004 at 10:13 am

The Guild 50th has been featured in a few films and tv shows, most notably “The English Patient” episode on Seinfeld.

Lost Memory
Lost Memory on December 8, 2004 at 4:13 pm

I don’t know if anyone has read this before, but I found a 1999 New York Times article about the Guild Theater. I’ll post it here in case you haven’t read it.

New York Times, October 19, 1999

Rockefeller Center Quietly Closes Theater
by David W. Dunlap

Days before a sumptuously restored Radio City Music Hall reopened this month to blazing fanfare, the owners of Rockefeller Center closed another theater, just down the block, without any publicity.

The theater was the Guild. And on the night of Sept. 26, several eras ended, or at least dimmed, when the projector lamp was switched off after a showing of “Runaway Bride,” the last movie to be screened there.

The Guild’s 450-seat auditorium is to be demolished. Its shell will be combined with an adjacent former bank branch at 40 Rockefeller Plaza to create an enormous new retail space.

“I feel terrible about it,” said Peter H. Elson, whose family had run the Guild since 1950, “but in the movie business, 49 years is not a bad run.”

The Guild was a vestige of the newsreel houses that fed America’s appetite for moving images of world events in the decades before television. It was a remnant of the small, family-owned theaters that dared take a chance on “art” films. And it was a reminder that Rockefeller Center once had room for modestly scaled businesses.

Come to think of it, it was amazing that the Guild survived as long as it did. But it endured because Elson’s father, Norman, signed a 25-year lease renewal in 1974. That lease expired last month, and the owners of Rockefeller Center, a partnership including Tishman Speyer Properties, made it plain more than a year ago that they were not interested in keeping the Guild, Elson said.

Jerry I. Speyer, the president and chief executive of Tishman Speyer, said it was simply a case of a tenant “whose time had long passed, because of the size and scale of the theater.”

“The place was empty most of the time,” Speyer said. “It just had gotten tired.” The theater and bank space, on street and concourse level, will yield a store of 20,000 square feet.

Tishman Speyer and its tenants have both embellished and upended tradition in recent months at Rockefeller Center. The Rainbow Room was closed to accommodate private functions. Hurley’s restaurant went out of business. And the Art Deco shopping concourse was gutted.

But the plaza is being repaved, Prometheus is freshly regilded, new stores and restaurants are opening and the renovated Radio City Music Hall is earning rave reviews.

Next door to the Music Hall on 50th Street is the Guild, which opened in 1938 as an Embassy Newsreel house, one of a chain of five in Manhattan and Newark. (“World Around in Sight and Sound” was their motto.) Among the offerings in 1945 were “Yanks Rescued on Luzon” and “Battle of Manila.” The lease with Rockefeller Center stipulated that the theater never charge less than 25 cents a ticket, to keep things high-toned.

In 1949, Norman Elson, who was then the president of the competing Trans-Lux chain, took over the Newsreel theaters.

“That was just the beginning of TV,” Peter Elson recalled, “and he saw that newsreels were not much longer for the world.” Norman Elson remodeled the theater and reopened it as the Guild.

The mid-50’s were the Guild’s golden era, when one highly acclaimed film opened after another: Irving Pichel’s “Martin Luther” in 1953, Teinosuke Kinugasa’s “Gate of Hell” in 1954 and Vittorio De Sica’s “Umberto D” in 1955.

Even John D. Rockefeller Jr. attended “Martin Luther,” Peter Elson recalled.His office telephoned to say that he would pay admission but did not care to stand in line. Elson’s father drove down to welcome Rockefeller, proudly parking his brand-new Cadillac convertible in front of the marquee.

Rockefeller arrived in a limousine so old it still had running boards. Elson, embarrassed by his ostentation, ditched his car in a nearby garage after accompanying Rockefeller to his seat.

In the 50’s, the Guild sold books of 10 tickets for $2.50. More than 30 years later, Peter Elson received a call from a woman who had found two unused 25-cent tickets among her mother’s possessions. She wondered whether they would still be honored. Elson left instructions at the box office to accept the strange-looking tickets, and several days later they were used.

Elson said the Guild drew some of its largest audiences for shows between 5:15 and 6 P.M. — earlier than the peak hours in a neighborhood theater — as workers streamed out of Rockefeller Center. He questioned the benefit to the center of losing a nighttime attraction like that. “It doesn’t make good sense to me,” he said. “But then again, maybe that’s why I’m out.”

irajoel
irajoel on November 28, 2004 at 10:54 am

I recall using the subway entrance to get into the music hall several times in the late 50’s and early sixties. We always used it on sat. morning for the 1st show. Think it was 50 cents to get in. Don’t recall where we arrived at once we went through the door.

longislandmovies
longislandmovies on November 23, 2004 at 6:53 am

This was a DISNEY HOUSE FOR MANY YEARS

RCMH
RCMH on November 23, 2004 at 6:39 am

RobertR: The Music Hall was a bit more unique than most theatres. Its multiple box offices could be set up to sell for particular areas of the auditorium. The first mezzanine was the only part that was reserve seating.

RobertR
RobertR on November 23, 2004 at 5:21 am

TomR
Thanks for the info, so in a multiple box office house like the Music Hall would each box office would call each other constantly to compare tickets sold?

RCMH
RCMH on November 22, 2004 at 10:28 pm

CConnolly: the stair flanking the downstairs box office most likely went to the the Museum of Science & Industry, that occupied the space during the 1930’s. The museum space was designed the fill in the was thought to be non-profit making interior space at that end of the RCA Building, actually the RCA Building West.

The passageway from the concourse to the Lower Lounge of Radio City Music Hall most likely has a corresponding passageway theat lead into the lower level of the old Center Theatre. All of the buildings in Rockefeller Center were connected by the concourse.

RCMH
RCMH on November 22, 2004 at 10:15 pm

RobertR: Before computerized box offices, we did stop selling tickets and did a count of tickets sold for that show. Once we knew the count, we knew how much more we could sell. We never actually sold out an auditorium. We always stop selling with about 50 seats left. These were usually the seats in the first two rows. Peopel did not want to crain their necks to watch the movie. Also, we never sold every seat beacuse in the summertime, no amount of air conditions will cool down an auditorium filled to capacity. The same in the winter, as it it would become very stuffy. Even today, most computerized box office will cut off selling tickest when they reach a certain number of tickets sold.

chconnol
chconnol on November 22, 2004 at 1:53 pm

RE: the downstairs boxoffice…one more question. The stairs that are on either side of it. Did these at one time lead up to the lobby of the building (not Radio City but the main Rock Center building)? Just curious…Right now the stairs go to a small landing and there is a door but it’s a janitor’s closet now.

RobertR
RobertR on November 22, 2004 at 1:41 pm

Does anyone know in the days before computer box office systems how theatres with multiple box offices kept track of the seats left to sell? Was it as simple as doing the tally and calling each other?

Warren G. Harris
Warren G. Harris on November 22, 2004 at 1:19 pm

The RCMH’s underground boxoffice was only open when seats were available. As soon as the theatre reached capacity, it would be shut down, and you had to go up to the street and wait on line to get to the regular boxoffices. Underground, there was a mirrored corridor with a ticket taker at the end of it. You then entered into the theatre’s downstairs lounge, adjacent to the checkroom.

chconnol
chconnol on November 22, 2004 at 12:02 pm

TomR: that’s intriguing…that concourse entrance thing. So people would enter the Music Hall from inside the Rockefeller Center concourse to where? The lower level area of RCMH? Was this removed during the remodelling that took place a few years ago?

Thanks for the reply…that box office is funky looking right out in the hallway like that.

RCMH
RCMH on November 22, 2004 at 8:06 am

This box office was once intended for use by the Music Hall. The idea was guests coming in via the the new 6th Avenue Subway would proceed directly to this box office. Directly opposite, behind a wall, is the old concourse entrance to the Music Hall. In the old day when movioe & stage show was the norm at the Music Hall, this was the entrance used by large groups. The old Rockefeller Center tour used to enter the theater via this entrance,

chconnol
chconnol on November 22, 2004 at 7:45 am

Hope someone can help me figure this out. If you are in Rockefeller Center inside, downstairs on the lower concourse, right across the hallway from the GNC (Vitamin) Store, there is what looks like a box office of sorts with a set of stairs wrapping around it on either side. Like an idiot, one day I actually walked up thoses stairs and went up and came down the other side (I felt really stupid…). I though maybe this was the box office for The Guild but I don’t think so because it’s so far away from it. It’s obviously some kind of box office or ticket selling window but can anyone tell me what it was for? Radio City?

RCMH
RCMH on November 11, 2004 at 9:46 pm

The Nautica store has closed and is being replaced by a make-your-teddy-bear store. The building, the former Associated Press Building, was landmarked by the city, which included the exterior features of the old theatre. The re-creation of the old screen curtain can still be seen through the shop windows.

jays
jays on September 25, 2004 at 9:44 am

Wow! that’s amazing because I pass it every day and from the door before they covered the glass on the doors with paper you can see the former seating area and where the screen was. By the way why do the theatre owners or who ever is responsible for closing up a theatre for good always either put papers on the entrance doors or put some kind of covering on the dooway like smudge out the glass I don’t know if i"m saying it right but you can never see inside is this to prevent vandalism or something can somone explain.

dave-bronx™
dave-bronx™ on September 24, 2004 at 12:37 am

I haven’t seen it, but there are a lot of elements of Rockefeller Center that are landmarked, and I wouldn’t be surprised if this was one of them. Usually a big retailer wants their own design and wouldn’t retain decor from a previous tenant unless their removal was prohibited by the lease. Landmarking makes the property owner responsible, who in turn must make sure the tenants also comply, so they write it in the lease.

jays
jays on September 23, 2004 at 11:45 pm

the Nuatica shop which now occuppies this space is either closed or renovating becuse I see no activiy or manneqins in the window. It looked like Nuatica tried to keep a little of the look on the exterior and some on the interior because where the screen once stood there are store advertisements with a black masking on either side and curtains as well. like the old cinema can anyone confirm this.

RonMotta
RonMotta on September 20, 2004 at 1:46 pm

This was right across the street from NBC Studios. When I worked there as a Page, me and other pages would go to the movies if we got off early enough.

Warren G. Harris
Warren G. Harris on August 17, 2004 at 4:12 pm

My mother would never stand on line for any movie, not even for one at RCMH, so we always ended up at the Roxy. We always walked right into the Roxy, though we went for the first show in the morning, which started around 10AM. Once inside, my mother knew a short cut to the first balcony, where we aimed for first row center seats and usually got them.

VincentParisi
VincentParisi on August 17, 2004 at 1:27 pm

In the early 70’s when it played family fare I remember the Guild would get the spillover of the holiday crowds from Radio City. Yes, the Music Hall still had lines in the very early 70’s for their holiday shows. Kind of like what I heard about the 50’s. If the lines at the Music Hall were very long people would go to the Roxy instead. Imagine having such a choice!

kelley
kelley on August 17, 2004 at 12:44 pm

I remember this theatre when my family moved back to NYC around 1959. I saw THE MOUSE THAT ROARED among other films at this nice little theatre.

br91975
br91975 on August 17, 2004 at 11:33 am

They’ve got plenty of disposable income… and they’re apparently spending it somewhere else. Nautica announced last week that they bought out the remaining 12 years of their lease, pointing to the ever-so-fickle spending habits of teens as one of the main reasons behind their decision.